1995
HAIKU (Judge: Yvonne Hardenbrook)

Of all the responsibilities and privileges in serving as a haiku juror, my delight is in being the first to acknowledge some new poetic gem. This year's top prize goes to such a piece. The opening line, "whistle stop," calls up bright memories of our country's growth when railroads connected even remote communities doing little business with the outside world. The winning poet memorializes our disappearing passenger trains in this profound contrast of dying behemoth and fragile symbol of new life. There seems little mystery, yet each reading reveals another dimension, thanks to the enigmatic prepositional combination "on and off." The poem's length is exactly right for an English-language haiku, with each phrase carefully stated and the most startling image last. The picture of a train's stopping for an indecisive butterfly is just too powerful to ignore. 

The precise language and imaginative verb usage in "nets in place" put us on the boat as well as let us observe it from afar. Aboard, we may be lost to the view of others, but we know where we are. How soundlessly we slip our moorings to become a memorable haiku--the best on this subject I've seen. Here, too, the poet gives he poem in one breath, in simple syntax, with only one season word, and with no careless distractions or contrived devices.

The third prize winner, "Snow so deep," needs just three nouns, two adjectives, and no verbs to tell the familiar winter story of America's heartland and highland in the snow belt. Mailboxes being regulation height, what quicker and more visible measure of snowfall than the red flag! The polysyllabic Japanese-language haiku is vastly different from the English-language haiku with our abundance of single-syllable words. Here, with one breath, the poet brilliantly stabs the air with monosyllables to emphasize the phenomenon of overnight deep snow. 

Of the 403 haiku entries, I related to and admired almost 40, a typical percentage of poems selected by editors every day. In reducing this group to seven poems, I had to discard those with more than one season word, misuse of language, misunderstanding of natural phenomena, choppy phrasing, and weak generalities. I looked for fresh subject mater handled specifically in seamless phrasing. Always it was the feel of haiku that I was seeking, the "ah!" moment captured forever in the exactly right words.

The contrast of "Foggy morning" and clear "rosy depths" stayed with me for days, and what could be more intriguing than "hibiscus tea"? The internal rhyme of "mist" and "whistles" charmed me, and the delightful "no particular tune" clinched the choice. "An owl on the verge / of night" is probably as poetic a phrasing of an accurate account as I've ever read; it puts me on the scene. One need not be blind to "read" with one's fingers; the other verbs, "sighting" and "pause," are equally inspired choices. Haiku in this group vary in construction and subject matter, yet the profoundly enlightened moment, the distinctive phrasing, the delightfully juxtaposed images bind them together in the winner's circle.

These charming haiku and the poets who made them have brought me much pleasure. I am convinced that our contemporary Western interpretation of the venerable Japanese poetry form called haiku is on the right track. Selecting and presenting these seven outstanding examples has been an honor.

First Place ($100)

whistle stop . . .

on and off the train

a butterfly

Sharon Lee Shafii

Prospect, KY

Second Place ($50)

nets in place

the fishing boat

becomes the fog

Helen J. Sherry

San Diego, CA

Third Place ($25)

Snow so deep

only the red flag

of the mail box

Garry Gay

Windsor, CA

Honorable Mentions (in order)

Foggy morning-- 

staring into the rosy depths

of hibiscus tea

Donna Claire Gallagher

Sunnyvale, CA

morning mist

a workman whistles 

no particular tune

Martin Lucas

London, England

Almost visible

An owl on the verge

of night

Luke Shediak

Sydney, Australia

sifting pebbles

my fingers pause to read

the broken one

Ellen Compton

Washington, D.C.

SENRYU (Judge: Christopher Herold)

First Place ($100)

her mind going

great-grandma's slippers

in her purse

Yvonne Hardenbrook 

Murrysville, PA

This senryu has the long-lasting resonance of a haiku, yet, layer after excruciating layer, there are so many revelations of the human condition! The situation is both funny and tragic--the emotional equivalent of a good crack on the "funny bone." At first we giggle, catching a glimpse of those worn-out, fuzzy slippers protruding from the purse of our beloved great-grandmother. But the giggles quickly subside into discomfort. Do we say something? We're just kids; it wouldn't be polite--mom and dad would scold us. But what if great-grandma goes out? How many people will notice? We'd hate for her to be embarrassed. Our embarrassment dissolves into sadness, as will great grandma's, when the slippers are pointed out, especially if this is done by someone dear. For us kids there's a feeling of helplessness. For great-grandma, the sadness might trigger anxiety: "I'm no longer in control! I'm a burden!" Next, perhaps, we notice a hint of annoyance from mom and dad, who've not yet reached their golden years, and who are working hard to provide for us, for their own parents, and their parents' parents--so much responsibility! Lastly (and this is probably subliminal) there is fear--we all die. The content of this senryu is powerful but it's also crafted with skill and is visually appealing. The slippers are wedged between great-grandma's drifting mind and the material world, represented by her purse. She's in transition, so it's footwear that goes into the place where she carries her valuables when she goes out. And when she does go, she might as well be comfortable!

senryu poet--

all those tight little lines

around her mouth

Lee Gurga

Lincoln, IL

Is this poet making an observation about another? Or is the poet looking into a mirror? It really doesn't matter; both possibilities are true. If the author of these lines is, in fact, scrutinizing another poet, then he is every bit as snide and prickly as the poet described. We humans are so naturally critical, and this particular critique is a tantalizing meld of seemingly contradictory emotions: derision, sympathy, and admiration. Yes, "all those tight little lines: . . .writing them leads to a marvelous discovery: we are what we write.

his side of it. 

her side of it.

winter silence

Lee Gurga

Lincoln, IL

The focus of this poem is on a single moment: stalemate--yet the moment goes on, and on, and on: winter silence. Through this paradox, we readers are obliged to directly experience an apparently irreconcilable difference of opinion. Indeed, this is a very loud silence; so much is seething just beneath the surface. A wall of stubbornness holds all other feelings hostage. Nevertheless, the feelings are felt en masse, as frustration. Another paradox is that, though there are two sides to the argument, they both amount to the same thing: winter silence This reminds me of a story about an argument between two monks. One claims that the flag they are watching moves; the other claims that it is the wind that moves the flag. Finally they demand and answer from their teacher, Sokei, the sixth Zen patriarch of China, who simply says, "Mind moves." Concerning craft, there are three points that contribute greatly to the power of this poem: 1) It is concise. 2) Visually, the words form a wall. 3) It is perfectly punctuated. The feuding couple is unbudging. . .period. . .period . . .Will it ever end? 

   the new employee

being shown around--

     crack in the wall

Tom Clausen

Ithaca, NY

I'm working at my desk, as usual, trying to get out some meaningful contest commentary in an impossibly short amount of time, or else! And who should come around the corner but my uptight, impatient supervisor. Only now he's smiling, and joking with the new employee, as he points out the lounge area with the comfortable couch and espresso machine. They stop within earshot, and the new employee listens eagerly as she's informed, through the supervisor's exuberance and grandiose gestures, what good fortune it is to be employed here. Looking between, and beyond these two figures (one animated, the other passive), I suddenly notice the as-yet unrepaired crack in the wall. I wonder. . .when will she first notice it?

Alpine bus ride--

the wildflowers

almost distract me

Donna Claire Gallagher

Sunnyvale, CA

This poem is wonderfully humorous, and a much-needed poke at an essential element of what we haiku poets have been learning over the past few decades: to closely observe minute detail, of what is right here, before our very eyes. On vacation in the Swiss Alps--the bus winds higher and higher, to where the world opens up, and fades out gradually, ridge upon ridge, into early spring haze. The poet gazes out across sun-bright snowy peaks--what magnificence! Beside the road, between patches of snow, the first wildflowers have emerged, and the poet suddenly realizes that the joy of having learned to see into the beauty of what is near at hand can also be a distraction, a discipline to not hold on to quite so rigidly. It becomes clear that this incredible panorama, at first seeming distant and expansive, is at the same time near at hand. Simultaneous with this revelation comes the realization that the poet is, in fact, distracted by the wildflowers and playfully pretends not to be. Which is the distraction? What joy it is to be midway between immense and small, near and far: two endless vistas.

downpour over Paris--

everywhere

French puddles

Evelyn Hermann

San Anselmo, CA

At first this poem induced a loud guffaw. Then I put it to the side as just being funny. I kept coming back to it though, even when images of poodles of all sizes and colors paraded through my vision in a nightmarish dog show, or fell from the sky (sans cats). What is it about this senryu, besides being goofy, that's so titillating? I'll try to get to the bottom of this. The French are an especially passionate people, in love with their customs, their language, their cuisine, their art, their wines--they hold their own culture very close to the heart. More than once I've heard stories from tourists who were snubbed or ignored (a few for good reason, I'm sure). Now, as to the rain--it falls almost everywhere--it is water in one phase of an endless process. Who knows where it's been, the water that falls in drops onto our roofs: Bangkok? Oagadougou? Paris? Rain belongs to no one, but in France, everything seems so . . . French

TANKA (Judge: Pat Shelley)

It was an honor being asked to judge the HPNC tanka contest and in this role being given the privilege to enter the experience of these poems. Tanka in English is a fascinating and ever-changing poetic form, and there are no firm guidelines for making judgments.

Traditionally a poem of love and longing, modern tanka on the other hand embraces all the emotions of human experience. Many of the poems submitted here were on themes of nature, reminding me often of Saigyo, and some were very haiku-like where the poet stands a little outside the poem. But many more were on themes of love, loss, and questions of the heart.

I would not judge tanka in terms of syntax, pronouns, definite or indefinite articles, but rather in terms of its music, the content of the poem, and the poet's voice within it. I believe form is important and that tanka should hold to some pattern of its origin or why call it a tanka? But I would not sacrifice rhythm and the natural voice to achieve this.

Selecting the following winners was challenging and cannot help but be subjective. What I valued was lyric quality, clear evocative imagery and language, and somewhere at the center of the poem that moment of arrest we look for in all good poetry, a sense of yugen, and a little karumi.

First Place ($100)

Today memories slipped out

                       unwanted

from cedar-scented shadows.

Now . . . I must forget you

                                again.

Kay F. Anderson

Redwood City, CA

Honorable Mentions (in order)

Breath will speak lightly, like the sea

going out, like salt winds fading

hear the clear

voice, of the mother singing

through trembling stone lions.

John Stokes

Fadden, Australia

on a warmer day

in a happier winter

I saw this willow

yellowing toward spring, but now

what is there to thaw my heart?

Elizabeth Searle Lamb

Santa Fe, NM

amazing

flesh and bones

driving in heavy traffic,

that here I am

doing this

Tom Clausen

Ithaca, NY

waking

to the dove's call

I smile

watching you grin

in your sleep

Helen J. Sherry

San Diego, CA

seventeen

and seventy

pausing by 

some fresh young shoots

near the willow

George Ralph

Holland, MI

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